Nick Clegg once called for Britain to become “a John Lewis economy.” With the retailer recently announcing pre-tax profits of £409m ($613m) last year – a rise of 15.8% – it’s clear that staff are at the heart of the business’ success. But how can other retailers emulate its example, at a time when consumer belts are being tightened and online competition is so fierce?

Part of John Lewis’ great employer brand is down to its business model.With the profits announcement, the retailer also announced that staff will receive a 17% bonus, from a bonus pool worth £210m. Since its inception, the John Lewis partnership model has rightly been lauded as a best practice example of employee-employer relations.

But bonuses are not the only way of attracting talent. Businesses should think about alternative ways to attract the best class of candidates when the financial outlook is grey, which can be positive for the workforce and profitable for the employer.

The attraction of a career in retail for prospective employees is rarely remuneration. A brand like John Lewis will attract a wide pool of high quality candidates through even the darkest economic times. By ensuring that their overall business strategy matches their employer comms, training staff on how to deliver their “brand promise,” and by having customer focused policies that communicate the employer brand to consumers, they have ensured that their business is known for an outstanding employee offering as well as delivering exceptional customer service – which lies at the heart of any retailer. B&Q, the home improvement giant, has also communicated a very clear message about its greatest asset – its people.

The retailer has built up a consumer and employer brand that perfectly mirror and therefore strengthen each other. Customers are told that B&Q is the home of experienced DIY advisors who will offer first-hand knowledge and insight, at the same as time as employees are told that their expertise and experience are valued highly. The success of brands like John Lewis and B&Q can be attributed to so much more than financial rewards. Other retailers seeking to emulate it should look first to how they can create, differentiate and communicate their own employer brands.

Retailers that work with their HR functions alongside comms and marketing to create clearly defined, famous and desirable employer brands are the ones that will be the most effective in attracting the right talent – even in difficult times.

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